MMI to Open Autism Clinic in Underserved North Omaha

July 7, 2020

After months of planning and community feedback, the Munroe-Meyer Institute's Autism Clinic for Toddlers in Omaha North (ACTION) now has an anticipated opening date -- January 2021.

Clinic timeline:

  • Donation: June 2019
  • Stakeholder meetings: August 2019 and January 2020
  • Space identification: March 2020
  • Director hired: April 2020
  • Signing of lease: May 2020
  • Architect selection: May 2020
  • Proposed builder selection: Fall 2020
  • Proposed opening date: January 2021

"An anonymous angel donor supported establishing an autism clinic in an underserved area of Omaha. In August of 2019, MMI decided that the most appropriate location for this would be the North Omaha community," said Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D., director of MMI. "The generous gift from the donor allows MMI to actualize this vision."

MMI leaders met with North Omaha community stakeholders in August 2019 about the goals for the clinic. The meeting, held in North Omaha, explored community reaction to the proposed project, including possible locations, and solicited suggestions about service provision, outreach activities and other topics. A second stakeholder meeting was held in January 2020.

"At the meetings, we started to build relationships with the community," said Melonie Welsh, MMI director of community engagement. "We hope to continue that conversation as we go forward with this project, so that the clinic is a genuine part of the community."

The 7,920-square-foot clinic, located at 5050 Ames Ave. in Baker Place Shopping Center, will bring intensive clinical services to North Omaha for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. The ACTION Clinic will provide intervention services and parent training for children under the age of 5 years old. It will be able to serve approximately 15 children. Interventions will include applied behavior analysis and parent education, with a future goal of supporting diagnostic services in the community.
"There are not a lot of intensive intervention services for young children with autism spectrum disorder in this area," said Courtney Burnette, Ph.D., director of the integrated Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which oversees the Autism Clinics for Toddlers (ACT). "This clinic will definitely fill an unmet need."
MMI has signed a 10-year lease at the location, signifying MMI's commitment to North Omaha, Welsh said.
"We hope for an ongoing dialogue to build trust and ensure success, as well as explore avenues for further support of the intellectual and developmentally disabled community in North Omaha," she said.
Elizabeth Preas, Ph.D., will be the director of the ACTION Clinic.

Dr. Preas is a 2019 graduate of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Doctoral Program at UNMC. Before moving to Omaha, Dr. Preas was the Regional ABA Clinical Director for Epic Developmental Services. While working at Epic, she established an early intensive behavioral intervention clinic-based program for children with autism in the North Texas Region and provided home-based services.

Previously, Dr. Preas established two clinic-based programs with non-profit organizations in east Texas for children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders, serving as the clinical director.

"Dr. Preas is a great fit," Dr. Burnette said. "She has opened or supported the opening of several different intervention clinics in Texas, so she has experience in that role. And, having studied at MMI, she has a lot of local knowledge that will be very helpful."

MMI also has announced that Pact Studios, a local Omaha architecture firm, has been selected by UNMC to join the team to prepare the clinic for opening. MMI sought a firm that had relationships with both MMI and the North Omaha community during its interview process.

Regina Carroll, Ph.D., director of the ACT Clinics, said that there are many families from North Omaha on the waiting list for the current ACT Clinic at 90th and Q streets.

"We're excited to expand and to serve families in the North Omaha community," she said.

The new clinic also may serve as a model to expand ACT Clinics across Nebraska.

"We've been working since I got here two years ago at getting this clinic up and running," Dr. Carroll said. MMI leadership has been looking at different processes -- staff training, delivery of interventions, nuts and bolts operational details such as billing -- in hope of creating a model that is not only successful in North Omaha, but replicable in other areas.

Drs. Carroll and Burnette also thanked the angel donor.

"It's amazing we were given the opportunity to do this," Dr. Carroll said. "A location in North Omaha has always been in the plans, but this funding allowed us to spend time and put together a high-quality expansion model that will benefit North Omaha and the entire state."